For­get jails, fund hip re­place­ments

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE -

We Ki­wis think of our­selves as a fear­less, in­trepid peo­ple, but (a) the moral panic over meth con­tam­i­na­tion and (b) our rates of im­pris­on­ment sug­gest we also share a fairly high level of so­cial anx­i­ety.

As Sir Peter Gluck­man, the gov­ern­ment’s chief sci­ence ad­viser, ob­served in his re­cent re­port on pri­son re­form, our crime rates had been fall­ing since 2009, and re­cently lev­eled out. ‘‘[Yet] it is wor­ry­ing that, in 2016, 71 per cent of New Zealan­ders thought crime was in­creas­ing.’’

New Zealand seems more fear­ful of crime than Fin­land which, by com­par­i­son, im­pris­ons far fewer of its peo­ple.

The coali­tion gov­ern­ment seems in­tent on break­ing this pat­tern. Last week, it an­nounced its de­ci­sion to build a 500 bed pri­son at Waik­e­ria with a 100-bed men­tal health unit at­tached - rather than the 2000-3000 bed Amer­i­can style mega-pri­son en­vis­aged by Na­tional.

The eco­nomic cost – let alone the so­cial cost – of­main­tain­ing the ‘‘lock’em up’’ ap­proach ap­pears to be un­sus­tain­able. As Gluck­man also pointed out, the to­tal cost of pris­ons has dou­bled since 2005, and tripled since 1996. Since 1972, crim­i­nal-jus­tice costs have grown twice as fast as any other cat­e­gory of gov­ern­ment spend­ing and three times faster than GDP.

How come? Well, we’ve be­gun re­mand­ing more peo­ple in pri­son (rather than hav­ing them out on bail) and are keep­ing them in pri­son for longer. In com­bi­na­tion, this has sent New Zealand’s rates of in­car­cer­a­tion through the roof. Else­where, over 75 per cent of OECD coun­tries have pri­son pop­u­la­tion rates be­low 140 per 100,000 peo­ple. Yet in Fe­bru­ary 2018, our com­pa­ra­ble rate was sit­ting at 220, up from 148 at the be­gin­ning of the 21st cen­tury.

In Ire­land, which has al­most the same pop­u­la­tion as New Zealand, the com­pa­ra­ble rate is only 82 per 100,000. Even these fig­ures un­der-re­port the sit­u­a­tion among Ma¯ori – who com­prise 14.5 per cent of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion but 50.3 per cent of the pri­son pop­u­la­tion, at an as­tro­nom­i­cal im­pris­on­ment rate of 660 per 100,000, as Cor­rec­tions re­ported back in Au­gust 2013.

Of course, no-one is sug­gest­ing pris­ons are not nec­es­sary for se­ri­ous and vi­o­lent of­fend­ers. Yet ear­lier this year, we had nearly 3000 peo­ple on re­mand in pri­son, along­side the 7443 peo­ple sen­tenced for com­mit­ting crimes, for a grand to­tal of 10,394 in­mates.

As Gluck­man con­cluded, we have to con­sider whether the re­lated costs ‘‘rep­re­sent value for money in terms of help­ing vic­tims re­cover, keep­ing com­mu­ni­ties safe, re­duc­ing of­fend­ing and re-of­fend­ing, and get­ting peo­ple off…the ap­par­ently al­most in­evitable path from ini­tial of­fend­ing to es­ca­lat­ing con­tact and even­tual im­pris­on­ment, of­ten with re­cidi­vism. Cost ben­e­fit analy­ses, and re­search ev­i­dence, sug­gest they do not.’’

That rea­son­ing ex­plains last week’s de­ci­sion to down­size the new Waik­e­ria fa­cil­ity, and shift re­sources into pre­ven­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment will also need to ad­dress the bail and pa­role laws, which are gen­er­at­ing much of the cur­rent over­crowd­ing and ex­pense.

It will be po­lit­i­cally dan­ger­ous to do so. Al­ready, the Op­po­si­tion has been play­ing the fear card about the risk of re­leas­ing peo­ple ‘‘who should be in pri­son.’’

New Zealand First will be a key player in any pol­icy shift. Per­haps it can be con­vinced that free­ing up pri­son spend­ing could mean more money for hip op­er­a­tions.

Sir Peter Gluck­man

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